What is an Independent School?

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When considering secondary education, there are several alternatives, one of which is going to an independent school. But what is an independent school? What makes it different from a grammar school, or a state school? Are independent schools and private schools the same thing?

An independent school is ‘independent’ from the government and requires pupils to pay a fee to attend the school. Independent schools are different from state schools in that they charge pupils a fee to attend, and they decide the curriculum, teaching system and various other aspects on their own. Many private schools are considered to be independent schools. They may offer provision for primary or secondary aged pupils.

Continue reading this article in order to find out more on independent schools and how they differ from the multiple other schooling alternatives.

Are there different types of independent school?

There are varying types and sizes of independent schools – as it is a very broad category. It is important to explore the different types before finally deciding on the school, or schools, you wish to apply to. Some are explained below.

Boarding schools

Some independent schools are boarding schools. At these schools, most or all students will live on campus. The school will most likely provide food and meals daily for the pupils. Students will be assigned a dorm; at some schools they may even get a single room. This will usually contain a bed, storage areas such as cupboards and wardrobes, as well as a desk or study area.

The school is also required to provide pastoral care for pupils and an approachable council. These schools will receive regular inspection to ensure they are safe and happy learning institutes for children.

Alternatively, some independent schools will be boarding schools as well as day schools. In this case, they have all the services and rooms that are required for boarding students but also accept local students to come to school in the morning and leave in the afternoon or evening.

Some schools offer flexible boarding for students who wish to board part way through the year, but other schools do not. It is important to check the independent school’s website for the specifics before applying or accepting a place. To find out more on boarding schools in the UK see this article from the British Council website.

International schools

The aim of these schools is to provide an international education and experience. This helps prepare students for higher education abroad or future overseas schooling. The school may attempt to achieve this in multiple ways.

Firstly, they will likely focus on global affairs and politics more than other schools. Foreign languages and culture may also be a focus. They may choose to alter their curriculum and do different qualifications to the national one. For example, some international schools in the UK offer IGCSEs (International GCSEs) rather than GCSEs. In Year 12 and 13, the International Baccalaureate may also be offered as a substitute or alternative to A-Levels. Check out this Think Student article to learn more about IGCSEs.

Learning difference schools

These schools may focus on facilitating an education for pupils with learning disabilities. It helps serve the needs of students who are not fully satisfied by state schooling. In this case they will hire learning specialists to support and teach students.

On the other hand, there are some types of independent school that may only accept highly bright students. They will have a series of difficult exams and only select the top candidates to attend the school.

All-girls schools or all-boys schools

Some independent schools are single-sex schools. This means they only accept either female students or male students. The parents of pupils or the pupil themselves makes the decision to attend an all-girl or all-boy school.

Independent religious schools

Religious independent schools usually incorporate a specific religion into the learning life of their pupils. At a Christian school, this may include going to church in the morning and praying before meals.

To see a list of independent schools across the UK, see the independent schools’ directory website.

What’s the difference between private and independent schools in the UK?

In the UK, a private school is any educational organisation that is not directly funded by the state or government. This means any school where pupils are required to pay a set fee in order to attend. On the other hand, an independent school is a more specific type of private school. It is a a school which is run by a board of governors or directors.

More simply put, an independent school is run by a group of people separate from any company or organisation. Private schools may also be run by a board such as this. Alternatively, private schools can also be run by a religious organisation or a non-profit corporation or any type of organisation.

This means, at an independent school, most decisions will be voted on and primarily made by this group of governors. This may include the curriculum the school teaches, the fees to attend the school, or which teachers and head teachers to hire.

Do you have to pay for independent schools?

Unlike state schools, independent schools are not funded by the government and are instead payed for personally by the parents of pupils. The independent school is able to decide on its own, the fees it sets for pupils, this may vary between age groups. For example, many independent schools are available for primary and secondary school years. An independent secondary school will usually be found to have a higher fee than an independent primary school.

Also, different independent schools have different fees. This may be because they are a boarding school or provide other services including prepaid lunches. To find out the fees of a specific independent school visit the website of this school.

Bursaries and scholarships are also offered by many schools. This may help pupils who can’t afford the full fees to get a discount. Scholarships generally include academic, music, art, sport, or all-rounder scholarships.

Find out how much private schools’ cost in the UK by reading this Think Student article.

Pupils who wish to enter an independent school will usually be required to take a general entrance exam. If also aiming for a scholarship, the pupil will likely have to take further exams or assessments based on the specific scholarship.

In order to get a bursary, parents of the pupil will usually be required to send in a report of their finances. Once this is sent the school will decide whether or not a bursary will be granted. Find out more about how to get a bursary for private schools with this Think Student guide.

Scholarships and bursaries can cover anywhere between 10% to 100% of the school fees.

What are the requirements to attend an independent school?

Most private schools hold entrance examinations for all students who wish to enter. These will usually be above the average level of difficulty and are meant to filter out a number of students especially when there are very few places.

There are also a limited number of scholarships awarded out. This means that, separate to the entrance exams, scholarship exams will also usually be held. This helps the school to decide who to award scholarships to.

The entrance examinations for independent schools may differ depending on the subject. For example, for a subject such as sports, it is unlikely to be a written exam, it might instead be the supervision of a sports match or race. For an art scholarship, students may be required to bring a portfolio of work. Finally for a music scholarship, they will most likely be required to give a practical performance of an instrument. To learn more about independent school entrance exams click here.

A few private schools also conduct, formal or informal, interviews with either the headteacher or other member of senior staff. This is to get to know the pupil better as well as their aspirations and ability.

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